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Fintech startup Stripe has set a 12-month deadline for itself to go public, either through a direct listing, or pursue a transaction on the private market, such as a fundraising event and a tender offer, according to sources familiar with the matter. The news, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes as a surprise considering the rather dry public market activity in the tech world.  Stripe declined to comment on the record about the deadline or current revenue.  The payments giant was founded in 2010, so the fact that it’s exploring avenues for exit is not entirely surprising. Most recently publicly valued at $95 billion, Stripe has not been immune to the global downturn, however. In November, it laid off 14% of its staff, or around 1,120 people. And, the company has slashed its internal valuation more than once over the past year. Earlier this month, TechCrunch reported that Stripe had cut its internal valuation to $63 billion. That 11% cut came after an internal valuation cut that occurred six months prior, which valued the company at $74 billion. According to the Journal, Stripe has hired Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan to help it evaluate which course of action makes the most sense for the company.  Founded in Ireland by brothers John and his brother Patrick Collison (the CEO), Stripe last raised venture capital in March of 2021 – a $600 million round that gave it that lofty $95 billion valuation. That financing included backing from two major insurance players. Allianz, via its Allianz X fund, and Axa participated in the round, along with Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Sequoia Capital and an investor from the founders’ home country, Ireland’s National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA). Stripe reportedly notched gross revenues of $12 billion and was EBITDA profitable in 2021, according to Forbes. The company’s products, in its own words, power payments for online and in-person retailers, subscriptions businesses, software platforms and marketplaces, “and everything in between.”  Late-stage tech companies have largely avoided debuting onto the public market over the past year due to general volatility hammering stocks. Has Stripe missed its window to have gone public, or is it kicking off a trend to be followed by other behemoths in the space? Guess that’s what it’s trying to figure out. Want more fintech news in your inbox? Sign up here. Got a news tip or inside information about a topic we covered? We’d love to hear from you. You can reach me via Signal at 408.404.3036. Or you can drop us a note at [email protected] Happy to respect anonymity requests.  Stripe eyes an exit over next 12 months by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

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Newsletter platform Substack announced today that it’s introducing several new features, including private Substacks. A private Substack is a publication that you can host alone or readers can request to subscribe to read your posts. Writers can choose to approve or decline each subscription request. In a blog post, Substack explained that private Substack accounts work similarly to private Instagram profiles. A private Substack can be used to keep in touch with friends, build communities of interest and test the waters for a new publication, the company says. Users can change their Substack from public to private at any time by navigating to their settings and selecting “Private” in the “Import” section. Once a users make their publication private, readers won’t be able to see any posts. When a reader requests to subscribe to a Substack, the writer will receive an email notification with their details. You can see your requests on your Subscribers page. If you approve a request, the reader will be automatically subscribed and sent a Welcome email. The launch of the new feature comes as Substack has been hoping to capitalize on Twitter’s upheaval following Elon Musk’s takeover. The company openly targeted Twitter’s user base in the past few months and recently threw its hat into the ring as a more direct competitor with the launch of Substack Chat, which allows writers to communicate directly with their loyal readers right in the Substack mobile app. Image Credits: Substack Now, the company is somewhat inching further into the social media giant’s territory by offering private Substacks. Twitter has offered the ability to make your account private for many years now, and also offers Twitter Circle, which allows you to tweet to a smaller audience of your choice. With its Chat feature, Substack was also taking on other online communities like Discord and Slack, which also both offer private settings. Substack’s new offering could be seen as a way for the company to bring its platform in-line with the companies it’s looking to compete with. As for the other new Substack features rolling out today, the company is launching new updates for its aforementioned Chat feature. The new updates are designed to make it easier to start conversations with existing subscribers. Now, when you share a new post, podcast, or video, you can instantly start a conversation in Chat by automatically sharing the link with a caption in your chat. For users with more than one Substack publication, the company is introducing a new feature that lets them easily toggle between publications without have to remember multiple logins and passwords. Another new feature lets users “duplicate” posts, which allows them to easily re-use templates instead of reformatting each post from scratch. The company is also introducing search improvements, as a search button is now prominently featured on the web in the top right corner. When searching keywords, the top three relevant posts will appear. Readers can now also search keywords to find posts, publications, and people from their web inbox. In addition, math and science writers can now embed math equations into any post using LaTeX. Substack targets Twitter with launch of discussions feature, Substack Chat Substack introduces ‘private Substacks’ that readers can request to subscribe to by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch

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The folks behind Nebia — the techy shower-head startup backed by Apple CEO Tim Cook and a host of other big names — have sold to Mark Cuban’s Brondell, which makes bidets, air purifiers and the like. The Nebia name and water-saving nozzles will live on following the deal, co-founders Philip Winter and Gabriel Parisi-Amon said in a call with TechCrunch. Despite my nudging, the pair declined to say what Brondell paid to scoop up the brand, which launched on Kickstarter eons ago (in 2015). If you know the terms of the deal, wouldn’t it be cool if you hit me up? Along with Cook and a bevy of early Kickstarter supporters, Nebia raised money from former Google boss Eric Schmidt’s family office, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Fitbit co-founder James Park, Y-Combinator, Stanford — need I go on? Nebia stood out when it launched with pricey nozzles that blasted users with a fine, hurricanic mist, while conserving up to 70% of the water a typical shower head sprays out in the process, the startup claimed. This proved polarizing; Nebia’s exuberant storm won over yours truly, but divided a newsroom with its unconventional take on a beloved ritual. Over the years, Nebia dialed things down to win over more customers, whittling its projected water savings to around 50% in the process. During its time as an independent company, Nebia estimated its customers conserved more “500 million gallons of water,” as well as the “equivalent of over 27 million kWh (27 GWh) of energy.” The firm equated the energy savings to “roughly equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 2,700 American homes.” Winter told TechCrunch that Nebia’s products, including those it made with Moen, have reached more than 100,000 homes. “I’m working right now on future products [at Brondell],” said Parisi-Amon — “ones that are directly related to what we’ve made before, and ones that are like completely different, but can still apply the materials that we’ve worked on and the analysis that we’ve worked on.” Winter and the rest of Nebia’s 15-person team also joined Brondell, the co-founders said. Both executives emphasized that they’re still committed to helping folks conserve water — a critical task as climate change drives droughts.  “That is why we started and that is why I, at the time, left Apple,” said Parisi-Amon. “I wanted to use my mechanical engineering degree to make a product that literally anyone could swap in for what they had, and was better for the environment,” added Parisi-Amon. “And that work is not done.” Winter said as much as our call wound down earlier this week. “As the population grows, and we use more water per capita, and we have more frequent episodes of drought and more acute droughts, the equation is not a very positive one,” said Winter. “We have to figure out ways to use water more effectively.” Mark Cuban’s bidet brand buys shower startup that wooed Tim Cook by Harri Weber originally published on TechCrunch

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Today, HBO announced that the fourth season of the Emmy-winning drama series “Succession” will premiere on Sunday, March 26. It will debut at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and will stream on HBO Max. “Succession” focuses on the Roy family and their media empire, Waystar Royco. Throughout the show, Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox), father and business mogul, has been making plans for when he eventually resigns as CEO. In season three of “Succession,” the Roy siblings, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Siobhan (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Connor (Alan Ruck), attempt a coup to stop the sale of their father’s company. As we enter the fourth season, tech visionary Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) is about to buy Waystar, much to the children’s dismay. In the newest trailer, viewers catch a glimpse at how they deal with the news–which isn’t great. Season 4 will also feature new cast members, such as Annabeth Gish, Adam Godley, Eili Harboe, and Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson. HBO’s ‘Succession’ Season 4 premieres on March 26 by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch

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Meet Renaissance Fusion, a Grenoble-based startup that has been working on nuclear fusion for the past couple of years. The company recently raised $16.4 million (€15 million) in funding in a seed round led by Lowercarbon Capital. Several European investors also participated in the round, such as HCVC, Positron Ventures and Norssken. “We are proud to support Francesco Volpe and his team in the emergence and industrialization in France and in Europe of a disruptive solution in energy production and distribution technologies. Grenoble is a highly strategic location that allows them to benefit from a favorable environment for the development of nuclear energy, a strong ecosystem such as the CEA, and an unrivaled pool of talent,” Alexis Houssou, Founder and Managing Partner at HCVC, said in a statement. Unlike most nuclear fusion experiments that are based on tokamaks, Renaissance Fusion is working on a stellarator reactor. The company is well aware that there is a long and windy road ahead as it expects to be able to ship a small nuclear fusion reactor with a 1 GW capacity in the 2030s. It wouldn’t operate power plants directly. Instead, the company would sell its reactors to plant constructors and operators. “We have a technology that is pretty unique,” Renaissance Fusion founder Francesco Volpe told me. Instead of designing complicated three-dimensional coils to generate a magnetic field, Renaissance Fusion greatly simplifies this process by drawing tracks on a cylinder. After some calculation based on the magnetic field that you want to generate, the team can determine the shape of the coils that you need. The cylinder rotates around an axis while a device moves left and right to engrave tracks with a laser on the surface of the cylinder. Image Credits: Renaissance Fusion Cylinder blocks are then combined together to form a reactor. This modularity should help when it comes to shipment and logistics. As for the neutrons emitted by the nuclear reaction inside the cylinder, Renaissance Fusion wants to use liquid Lithium to create thick walls that separate plasma from the outside world. “We inject a layer of liquid metal. It flows around the inside of the cylinder and then it’s extracted at the bottom. It’s thick enough to absorb the majority of the neutrons,” Volpe said. This liquid metal is also used to extract heat from the stellarator, which can be used to create steam, which can be used to propel turbines, which can be used generate electricity. Image Credits: Renaissance Fusion / According to the startup’s founder, Renaissance Fusion is quite innovative with its use of liquid metal. “We are the only one in commercial fusion where the liquid lithium faces the plasma,” Volpe said. Right now, the company can create liquid Lithium-based walls that are 1-centimeter thick. It will require a lot of iterations before it can be used in nuclear fusion as Renaissance Fusion estimates that it would require a thickness of 30 to 40 centimeters. The company is already thinking about commercial applications that could be released before the 2030s. For instance, Volpe believes that Renaissane Fusion’s coil patterning technology could be used for MRI and energy storage. “Whenever you need a strong magnetic field, a large volume and high precision,” he said. With today’s funding round, Renaissance Fusion plans to triple the size of its team to 60 people by the end of 2023. In many ways, this is still the early days of Renaissance Fusion. So let’s see how it pans out in the coming years. Renaissance Fusion raises $16.4 million to build nuclear fusion technology in Europe by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch

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Container management platform Mirantis, which you may remember from its OpenStack days and from acquiring Docker Enterprise in 2019, today announced that it has acquired Shipa, a startup that builds tools to help developers develop, deploy and manage cloud-native applications. Shipa previously raised a $3.75 million seed round in 2020, co-led by Engineering Capital and Jump Capital. Mirantis tells me that the price of today’s acquisition was between $10 million and $30 million (in both cash and stock). Mirantis plans to integrate Shipa into its Lens platform, which promises to help businesses accelerate their cloud-native application delivery. Like Shipa, Lens aims to abstract the complexities of building and running cloud-native applications on top of Kubernetes away by providing a single platform that developers and ops teams can use to develop, deploy, monitor and debug their workloads. Mirantis, it seems, was especially interested in Shipa’s capabilities around security and governance, as well as its tooling to make updates easier. The two companies are also working on integrating the two platforms, with a first integration of Lens into the Lens Desktop planned for March.  The company will also integrate Shipa into its Mirantis Kubernetes Engine. “Our goal at Shipa, from the beginning, was to give DevOps and platform engineering teams the capability to choose their own underlying tools with a focus on automation to reduce the complexity of the technology infrastructure required by cloud-native applications,” said Bruno Andrade, co-founder and CEO of Shipa. “Our technology makes deployment and management of applications and updates much easier and faster by letting developers focus on what they do best and not infrastructure.” Andrade, together with his co-founder and VP of engineering Vivek Pandey, as well as the rest of the Shipa team, will join Mirantis. Mirantis CEO and co-founder Adrian Ionel noted that “Shipa’s technology puts ground-breaking application discovery, optimization, security and management capabilities in the hands of Lens users.” It’s worth noting that Lens, which is available as an open-source product (at least for the core of its capabilities), currently has an installed base of one million users, with 50% of Fortune 100 companies using it, according to Mirantis. While Mirantis isn’t exactly on an acquisition spree, it’s worth noting that the company also acquired amazee.io in July 2022, another service that helps developers deploy their cloud-native applications. “We were the first investors in Shipa’s vision of application infrastructure-as-code, and now, as shareholders in Mirantis, we can’t wait to continue our journey together,” said Shipa investor Ashmeet Sidana, founder and chief engineer of Engineering Capital. “Mirantis has a terrific track record with acquisitions and we believe Shipa is complementary to Mirantis’ vision of simplifying the Kubernetes developer experience – adding the observability and management of applications. We are looking forward to watching the combined vision come to fruition.” Mirantis acquires Docker Enterprise Mirantis acquires Shipa by Frederic Lardinois originally published on TechCrunch

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New Enterprise Associates, known by the acronym NEA, has closed a new pair of early-stage and growth-stage funds, both hovering a little over $3 billion to a total of $6.2 billion. The two-fund structure is a first that begets another first for the 45-year old firm: TechCrunch has learned that NEA has filed to be considered as a registered investment advisor, which, if passed, would give the firm a status similar to the likes of other storied firms including Andreessen Horowitz, SoftBank, and Sequoia Capital. NEA’s shift signals the firm’s interest in doing business in a newer, more blended way. Scott Sandell, NEA’s general managing partner who has worked at the firm for nearly three decades, spoke to TechCrunch about the firm’s growing remit amid tech uncertainty. For one, Sandell explains, NEA wants to take up even more room in the industry. Before the tech bubble hit its peak in 2021, the firm’s operations team uncovered that NEA was doing a 36% IRR on $4 billion dollars invested over a decade. The bad news? That NEA only accounted for 10% of the capital that the same cohort raised in total. “It sounds like an opportunity to me,” Sandell said. The firm thus set off to raise two funds, one that would be used solely to invest in early-stage bets, and another that would dedicate one-third of its capital to existing growth-stage portfolio companies, with the rest invested in new growth-stage companies. It helped that investors were also knocking on NEA’s door, asking for exposure to either early-stage or late-stage, not always both. “What we had heard over and over again, not from everybody, but certainly from some and some that mattered, is that they didn’t really know what to do with us,” Sandell said of LPs. “We had this one big fund and it had venture and growth in it…we had resisted going in the [dual-fund structure] for a long time.” It appears to be well equipped to handle the incoming homework. NEA currently has 22 investment partners, and around 40 other venture operations staff among a less than 100 person staff. Sandell noted generative AI and software as two of the firm’s interest areas, adding that they are especially interested in horizontal technology. Because the funds had their first close earlier, NEA has already invested 20% of the capital raised. The biggest difference, Sandell said, when it comes to investing the remaining 80% of the fund versus the initial 20% is that NEA wants to focus on capital-efficient businesses. “We know that capital will be scarce for the foreseeable future – at least for the period of the next three or four years during which these companies will be formed and developed and have to raise additional capital and so on,” he said, later adding that “a lot of the companies that were born in the last decade, because capital was so freely available, did not develop that efficiency gene.” If it becomes a registered investment advisor, NEA doesn’t need to limit its stakes, can invest in public stocks, participate in secondaries, and can interact with its LPs in different ways. For example, Sequoia’s Alfred Lin recently noted that Sequoia only charged its LPs fees on invested capital, and while NEA is not doing that this time around – maybe thanks to its 175 person staff – Sandell said he wouldn’t be surprised if they considered that in the future. “We haven’t had as much flexibility historically to do some things. And I’m excited about that,” he said. On one more note about LPs, Sandell shut down the idea that capital calls have been harder to get done in this environment, one factor that has added to the mirage of how much dry powder is in the market right now. “We’ve never had an issue with that,” he said. When asked about how much capital the firm, a quiet giant, has given back to its investors to date, Sandell didn’t share anything concrete but said that “I’m virtually certain we have returned significantly more capital than we’ve ever raised.” He added, “that’s not true of a lot of other firms that have grown very quickly.” NEA now manages over $25 billion in assets – oh, and it’s looking beyond venture by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

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The infrastructure behind Hive, one of the most prolific ransomware operations, has been seized by law enforcement agencies in the United States and Europe. Hive saw its dark web portal seized as part of a coordinated law enforcement action carried out by the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, Secret Service and several European government agencies, just months after the federal government’s cybersecurity unit CISA sounded the alarm about Hive’s ongoing extortion efforts. “This hidden site has been seized. The Federal Bureau of Investigation seized this site as part of a coordinated law enforcement action taken against Hive Ransomware,” a seizure notice displayed on Hive’s dark web leak site reads. “This action has been taken in coordination with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the Department of Justice with substantial assistance from Europol.” The FBI confirmed Thursday that it had access to Hive’s computer network since July 2022, allowing federal agents to capture and offer Hive’s decryption keys to victims worldwide. Since its takeover, the FBI has helped more than 300 victims of the Hive ransomware, preventing more than $130 million in ransom payments, said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland during a press conference on Thursday, According to the government, the FBI also successfully disrupted a Hive ransomware attack on a Louisiana Hospital, saving the victim from a $3 million ransom payment, and another attack targeting a school based in Texas. Hive, which operates a ransomware-as-a-service model, previously targeted a wide range of industries and critical infrastructure, with a particular focus on healthcare and public health entities. The gang claimed Illinois-based Memorial Health System as its first healthcare victim in August 2021, followed by Costa Rica’s public health service and New York-based emergency response and ambulance service provider Empress EMS. Hive also targeted Tata Power, a top power generation company in India, in October. Garland added that the FBI has also begun dismantling Hive’s front and back-end infrastructure in the U.S. and abroad, which included the seizure of two of Hive’s backend servers located in Los Angeles. The FBI did not say how it identified the Hive servers, and no arrests or indictments were announced during the press conference. Hive ransomware actors have extorted over $100M from victims, says FBI US announces it seized Hive ransomware gang’s leak sites and decryption keys by Carly Page originally published on TechCrunch

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TikTok has quietly expanded its direct messaging settings to give users a choice of who they want to receive messages from. The options are now: everyone, suggested friends, mutual followers, people you’ve sent messages to, or no one. Prior to this change, only people users had identified as friends or were recommended could send a DM to each other on the platform. The change was first spotted by The Information. The company’s website explains that if you choose the “Everyone” option, that means anyone can send you a DM. Messages from mutual friends and people you follow will appear in your inbox, and messages from people you don’t follow will appear in Message requests. You can choose to accept, delete, or report these messages. If you choose the “Suggested Friends” option, this means that recommended friends, including synced Facebook friends and phone contacts, can send you a DM. The “Mutual Friends” option means that anyone who follows you and you follow back can send you a message. If you select the “No one” option, then you can’t receive direct messages from anyone. TikTok notes that you can still access your message history in your inbox, but you can’t receive new direct messages in those chats. To change your direct messaging settings, you need to tap the Profile icon at the bottom of the TikTok home screen. Next, you need to tap on the Menu button at the top and select “Settings and privacy” and then tap “Privacy.” From there, you need to select “Direct messages” and then you will be able to choose who you would like to allow to send you DMs. The change marks the latest way that TikTok is expanding social features on its platform in a bid to compete against Instagram. Last year, the company introduced a new “Friends” tab that replaced the “Discover” tab. TikTok’s decision to move away from the Discover tab indicated that it was looking to offer a new way to recommend content based on your actual friendships. Last September, TikTok launched a BeReal clone called TikTok Now that encourages users to post content everyday at a specific time in exchange for viewing posts from their friends. TikTok has already proven itself as a successful entertainment platform, and is now likely looking to expand its social features to get users to spend even more time on its app. TikTok rolls out new ‘Friends’ tab to more users, replacing the current ‘Discover’ tab TikTok expands its DM settings to let users choose who can message them by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch

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Comcast-owned streaming service Peacock had its best quarterly result since its 2020 launch, adding five million paying subscribers in its fourth quarter of 2022 to bring the total to 20 million, up from the over 15 million subs in the previous quarter. In Q1 2021, Peacock had 9 million paid users. Peacock gets much of its success from its sports programming. The boost in paid subscribers was primarily due to the FIFA World Cup, which streamed in Spanish on Peacock Premium and Telemundo. The streamer also now has exclusive next-day rights to NBC and Bravo shows. Peacock grows its paid subscriber base to 15 million after pulling back shows from Hulu “Looking ahead and based on our experience to date, we expect our subscriber cadence will follow our content launches, which will fall more heavily in the second half of ’23, and we continue to see positive trends in engagement churn and ARPU,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said during today’s earnings call. In 2023, Peacock Premium subscribers will get to watch the French Open tournament. The company is also in talks with partners to make NBC Regional Sports Networks available on the platform next year. Last month, NBC Universal partnered with JetBlue to become the airline’s official streaming partner, giving customers access to Peacock shows and movies. Although Peacock nearly tripled in revenue to $2.1 billion, its loss widened again compared with the previous year. The company noted an adjusted EBITDA loss of $978 million, compared with a loss of $559 million in 2021. Comcast also reported $541 million in severance costs, including $182 million related to NBCUniversal. And while Peacock had its most impressive quarter to date, it’s still lacking when compared to its streaming competitors, like Netflix with over 230 million subscribers, and Disney+ with 164.2 million subs. Paramount+ grew to 46 million users in its third quarter. During the earnings call, the company reassured investors that its streaming strategy is just fine the way it is. “We like what we’re doing. We had a phenomenal year getting to 20 million paid subs from less than a year ago, and we see this coming year as the peak year,” said CFO Mike Cavanagh. “We made a decision to invest in Peacock. It’s very clear that we picked the right business model at this point given where we are,” added Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCU. “We’ve been clear from the start that we’re going to see a return on that investment.” Peacock adds live TV from all local NBC stations to its Premium Plus tier Peacock tops 20M subscribers in Q4 as losses widen by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch

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Method, a startup that aims to make it easier for fintech developers to embed repayment, balance transfers and bill pay automation into their apps, today announced that it closed a $16 million Series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from Y Combinator (Method’s a Y Combinator graduate), Abstract Ventures, SV Angel and others. Co-founder Mit Shah says that the new cash will be put toward product development and growing the company’s headcount from eight people to 28 by the end of the year. Method launched in 2021 after two of the company’s co-founders, Jose Bethancourt and Marco del Carmen, experienced firsthand the difficulties of embedding debt repayment into their previous company, GradJoy. (TechCrunch previously covered GradJoy, which sought to help students better manage their loan repayment plans through an app-based system.) Integrating student loans into the GradJoy app turned out to be a patchwork of brittle, insecure screen-scraping APIs, physical check mailing and compliance hurdles, according to Shah. “Jose and Marco realized that there was an opportunity to provide developers with an embeddable API to add debt repayment to their apps and services,” Shah told TechCrunch in an email interview. “In May 2021, we started Method to provide developers with a turnkey infrastructure.” Shah points out that there’s no standard, technically easy way to access all of a person’s financial liabilities — their student loans, credit cards, mortgages and so on — and push money to those liabilities. Due to the lack of standardization, newer-age fintechs have resorted to using screen scrapers and login credential-based methods to aggregate and access the data, he says. But there’s a downside to those approaches. It can take a long time to onboard new financial institutions, and the lack of a direct connection makes it impossible to perform actions, like paying loans, on users’ behalves. Image Credits: Method “The industry has been chasing ‘open finance’ by developing solutions around user credentials and working indirectly with financial institutions,” Shah said. “We go straight to the source to enable read and write access for all of a consumer’s liabilities.” Method works by leveraging consumer credit access protections enacted into law as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Tapping into identity verification data from credit bureaus (e.g. Equifax) and wireless carriers (e.g. T-Mobile) and combining it with real-time data from financial institutions’ core banking systems, Method can collate a person’s liabilities across more than 60,000 institutions in the U.S. and kick off tasks such as balance transfers, payoffs, bill pay and more. “Method’s data API allows our customers — consumer-facing businesses — to retrieve all of a user’s existing liabilities using just their phone number. The liability accounts, once connected, are instantly writable and payable,” Shah explained. “Method’s payment API, meanwhile, allows users to push funds to any type of consumer debt and bill. Method handles the entire money movement process end-to-end, leaving you out of the flow of funds.” Method handles a lot of sensitive data, which might give some end-customers pause. But Shah said the company’s privacy policy is written to allay consumer advocates’ fears, specifying that Method collects only “minimum user information” and doesn’t sell user data to third parties. In another step to establish trust, the startup’s planning to launch a portal where users will be able to log in with Method to manage the data they share with other apps and services. Method claims it has 35 customers and more than 75,000 users, with annual recurring revenue sitting at around $2.25 million. While the startup competes with big names like Plaid, MX, Spinwheel and Dwolla, Shah sees Method holding its own, particularly as the platform rolls out new features in the next few months including real-time credit card transactions, instant balance transfers and enhanced live data points for liabilities. “Currently, new-age fintechs don’t have access to [sophisticated] infrastructure and traditional finance institutions have manual processes set up to retrieve real-time data on consumer credit lines or make payments towards them via checks,” Shah said. “We provide fintechs the ability to innovate faster and compete with larger banks with our turnkey real time data and payment operations. Traditional institutions can onboard users faster and see large savings on manual back end processes … We’ve seen demand for our product from all areas of traditional finance and new-age fintechs in the lending, debt consolidation and personal finance management space.” To date, Method has raised $18.5 million in venture capital. Method raises $16M to power loan repayment, balance transfers and more across fintech apps by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

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Finn, the Munich-based car subscription startup, is expanding beyond individual consumer rentals in the U.S. and into long-term business rentals. Car subscriptions offer flexibility, maintenance, roadside assistance and in many cases delivery of the vehicle directly to your door, and all for around the same price of a lease. For the consumer, that sounds great. For the startup, it sounds like an overhead nightmare. It makes sense that Finn would, if not exactly pivot, open up its service to fleets, which provide a potentially more stable and lucrative business than individual consumers. Finn said it had originally trialed the B2B car subscription service in Germany and found it to be successful. In the U.S., Finn’s delivery radius covers Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The startup is working to expand to California and Florida, and potentially other states, in 2023, a spokesperson told TechCrunch. The company said it has 2,000 cars, trucks and SUVs on the ground in the U.S., as well as a number of electric vehicle models. About 30% of Finn’s global fleet is electric. Many of Finn’s business partners are keen to test out EVs as part of their fleet, a response to the regulatory changes happening across the world that incentivize companies to electrify. If Finn wants to stay in the game, it’ll have to increase its EV mix, which might require it to raise more funds. Last May, Finn raised $110 million, bringing its total funding up to $908.3 million. Until then, Finn is targeting the small-to-medium sized companies with fleet sizes of 15 to 100 vehicles, which “tend to be underserved by incumbents and a good fit for Finn’s all inclusive and flexible model,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. Once Finn launches its B2B business in the States, it’ll work on rolling out its Business Portal, which is where customers can acquire new vehicles, manage current vehicles and view important documents. Finn brings B2B car subscriptions to US by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

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There’s no doubt that no-code tools are transforming the way apps are made — particularly in the corporate world, where there’s often a premium placed on tech that can cut costs. According to recent Gartner surveys, 70% of new business apps will use low-code/no-code technologies by 2025, and by 2024, 80% of non-IT professionals will develop IT products and services — with over 65% of them using low-code/no-code tools. No-code is a lucrative market, then — and one chock-full of vendors. But Whalesync is doing its darndest to stand out from the crowd with a tool that bi-directionally transfers data across popular SaaS apps including Airtable, Webflow and Notion. Whalesync was co-founded roughly a year ago by Curtis Fonger and Matthew Busel. Fonger, Whalesync’s CEO, began his career at Microsoft working on OneDrive file syncing and sold his first startup, no-code website builder Appetas, to Google in 2014. Busel is a former product manager at MakeSpace and a sometime no-code consultant. Fonger and Busel met in the spring of 2021 on Y Combinator’s co-founder matching platform. They originally planned to build a no-code app builder, but after working closely with operators, they discovered a bigger opportunity: data syncing. “Users were painfully stitching together data across their SaaS apps and trying to solve the problem with automation tools,” Fonger told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Drawing on my experience at OneDrive, we realized teams could unlock new use cases by syncing their apps rather than building one-way data pipelines.” Whalesync certainly isn’t the first platform to sync data between SaaS apps — far from it. The market for enterprise file sync and share tools could be worth $12.84 billion by 2026, according to Technavio. Recent no-code, data-syncing tools to the scene include PieSync, which connects a plethora of cloud apps and syncs contacts stored in those apps two-way. There’s also Airbyte-owned Grouparoo, an open source platform that syncs data between databases and cloud-based tools. Image Credits: Whalesync Whalesync’s differentiator, according to Fonger, is a spreadsheet from which businesses can automatically sync their data across SaaS apps and manage it. Users can set up internal tools with Notion and Postgres or build no-code apps with Bubble, for example. “Whalesync is different from traditional data pipelines or automation tools,” Fonger explained. “We’re conceptually closer to Dropbox, except instead of syncing files across computers we’re syncing data between SaaS applications. All you have to do is tell Whalesync how to match up tables and fields between SaaS apps and we handle the rest.” In order to enable bi-directional sync, Whalesync stores the data that it keeps in sync, Fonger says. Users can choose to delete that data if they delete their sync configurations or close their account. Perhaps thanks in part to the tool’s simplicity, Whalesync managed to gain traction relatively early after its February 2021 launch, signing up hundreds of customers and growing recurring revenue at an average rate of 38% per month. The company recently closed an $1.8 million pre-seed round led by Y Combinator with participation from Liquid 2, Soma Capital and Ascend, signaling at least some investor confidence in its approach. By the end of 2023, Whalesync plans to add another four to five team members to its six-person team. “Over the past several years we’ve seen the rise of the modern data stack. Large enterprises use extract, transform and load (ETL) and reverse-ETL pipelines to move data in and out of data warehouses,” Fonger said. “We’ve learned from these best practices and created novel technology to simplify the setup process and bring the power of data syncing to small- and medium-sized businesses, who are currently using automation tools to send data between applications.” Whalesync wants to simplify the process of syncing data between SaaS apps by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

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Layoffs continue to spread across the crypto job market amid macroeconomic volatility and bearish market sentiments, but there are still plenty of startups looking to hire fresh talent. Crypto firms like Coinbase and Crypto.com have cut employees in recent weeks, which has increased the talent pool and been “instrumental” for startups looking to build talent war chests, Jeff Feng, co-founder of layer-1 blockchain Sei, said to TechCrunch. The layoffs aren’t specific to crypto; Big Tech has also seen a number of cuts in recent months. But layoffs within crypto and adjacent industries present an opportunity for startups to bring in experienced talent across the sector, Nate Holiday, co-founder, president and CEO at Space and Time, shared with TechCrunch. The pace of hiring slowed after the summer of 2022 and continued for the remainder of the year, Aleksi Loytynoja, co-founder and CEO of “proof-of-talent” hiring platform Kleoverse, said to TechCrunch. “The final weeks of 2022, after the FTX collapse, were very quiet. Now, after the New Year, it seems that there’s more hiring happening again.” Yes, most companies are looking to conserve their burn rate and extend their runway as much as possible, but many are still hiring for “highly intentional and critical roles,” Nabin Banskota, co-founder of Niural.com, said to TechCrunch. “Layoffs are increasing the talent pool for startups to find really great talent with overall less competition.” Founder advice While recruiters and talent heads alike shared their advice on how to navigate the current hiring environment, we also spoke with a handful of founders about what they’re looking for in applicants. The first piece of advice? “Be obsessed with web3,” Holiday said. “If you don’t eat, sleep and breathe web3, this is probably not the industry for you.” Laid off from your crypto job? Here’s what founders are looking for in new talent by Jacquelyn Melinek originally published on TechCrunch

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In the wake of a seminal wave of new artificial intelligence startups such as OpenAI, a new UK company claims it can track and rank banks on their ability to develop and deploy AI platforms. Evident, a benchmarking and intelligence company, claims its inaugural Index can rank the 23 largest banks in North America and Europe on their competence in AI. “As the real-world application of AI accelerates at astonishing speed, we believe that this transformation is too important — for managers, for investors, for society at large — to be happening in a darkened room. Our Index measures the race to banking AI maturity in a way that brings transparency to the top of the agenda,” said Alexandra Mousavizadeh, Evident Co-Founder and CEO in a statement. Over a call she added: “Setting our methodology onto the banks felt like the right place to start because this is a sector that has been really focused on this for a number of years. After this we plan to go into insurance and the health sector as well as the energy sector, manufacturing and so on.” The Evident AI Index is based on “millions of public data points” says the company. “without resting on proprietary surveys that suffer from self-reported biases.” The results make for interesting reading. Evident AI Index rankings JPMorgan Chase & Co. comes out top, leading on all pillars, and scoring 63% of the available points. The bank is joined in the top five by Royal Bank of Canada, Citi, UBS, and Wells Fargo. North American banks listed in the index tend to appear ahead of European counterparts in building AI capability, said the company, making up some 7 out of the top 10 rankings in the Index. It would appear European banks are at risk of being left behind in the AI race, according to this inaugural index. Only three European banks make it into the top ten: UBS, ING and BNP Paribas. Evident is being backed by $3 million in funding from VCs and angel investors, including Venrex Investment Management (an early backer of Revolut); Scott Galloway, NYU Professor and co-host of Pivot podcast; Robin Saunders, CEO, Clearbrook Capital; David Brierwood, former COO of MSCI; Dimitri Goulandris, CEO, Cycladic; and Gary Ginsberg, former Senior Vice President Softbank Corp. and Executive Vice President Time Warner. “This is the year of AI, and we are seeing a rapid rise in AI use in almost every single sector. As the market begins to discern winners from losers based on their capability in AI, robust metrics and insight become key to stakeholder value. Evident is uniquely placed to provide that clarity.” Scott Galloway, NYU Professor and Co-host of Pivot podcast added in a statement. European banks suck at AI, with US banks leading the field, according to a new index by Mike Butcher originally published on TechCrunch

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The U.S. government’s cybersecurity agency has warned that criminal financially motivated hackers compromised federal agencies using legitimate remote desktop software. CISA said in a joint advisory with the National Security Agency on Wednesday that it had identified a “widespread cyber campaign involving the malicious use of legitimate remote monitoring and management (RMM) software” that had targeted multiple federal civilian executive branch agencies — known as FCEBs — a list that includes Homeland Security, the Treasury, and the Justice Department. CISA said it first identified suspected malicious activity on two FCEB systems in October while conducting a retrospective analysis using Einstein, a government-operated intrusion detection system used for protecting federal civilian agency networks. Further analysis led to the conclusion that many other government networks were also affected. CISA linked this activity to a financially motivated phishing campaign first uncovered by threat intelligence firm Silent Push. But CISA did not name the affected FCEB agencies — and did not respond to TechCrunch’s questions. The unnamed attackers behind this campaign began sending help desk-themed phishing emails to federal employees’ government and personal email addresses in mid-June 2022, according to CISA. These emails either contained a link to a “first-stage” malicious site that impersonated high-profile companies, including Microsoft and Amazon, or prompted the victim to call the hackers, who then tried to trick the employees into visiting the malicious domain. These phishing emails led to the download of legitimate remote access software — ScreenConnect (now ConnectWise Control) and AnyDesk — which the unnamed hackers used as part of a refund scam to steal money from victims’ bank accounts. These self-hosted remote access tools can allow IT administrators near-instant access to an employee’s computer with minimal interaction from the user, but these have been abused by cybercriminals to launch convincing-looking scams. In this case, and according to CISA, the cybercriminals used the remote access software to trick the employee into accessing their bank account. The hackers used their remote access to modify the recipient’s bank account summary. “The attackers used the remote access software to change the victim’s bank account summary information to show that they mistakenly refunded an excess amount of money, then instructed the victim to ‘refund’ this excess amount,” CISA said. CISA warns that the attackers could also use legitimate remote access software as a backdoor for maintaining persistent access to government networks. “Although this specific activity appears to be financially motivated and targets individuals, the access could lead to additional malicious activity against the recipient’s organization — from both other cybercriminals and APT actors,” the advisory said. Iran-backed hackers breached a US federal agency that failed to patch year-old bug US federal agencies hacked using legitimate remote desktop tools by Carly Page originally published on TechCrunch

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Much of the online grocery delivery frenzy from the past three years has mainly catered to urbanites who need a few items delivered in 20 minutes. But what if you are a suburban mom trying to fit a week’s worth of grocery shopping in between shuttling children to various activities? Enter Addie’s, a drive-up grocery store opening its first location today in Norwood, Massachusetts. CEO Jim McQuade told TechCrunch that he and co-founder and CTO Jeremiah Strauss created the concept so that groceries could be stocked, stored and bagged all without shoppers having to go inside the store. The 22,000-square-foot store offers a curated list of 4,500 products from both national and local brands ranging from bakery to baby items. Ordering looks pretty easy: Customers go to Addie’s website or app, purchase the groceries they want and choose a pick-up window that works best for their schedules. With 14 pull-through parking lanes, McQuade estimates that a customer can pull up and be driving off with their groceries in a matter of minutes. He had been following online grocery stores for the past decade, in fact, McQuade used the word “obsessed” to describe it. His “a-ha moment” came back when he and his wife had a toddler and a baby on the way and it took him 25 minutes to find three items in the store causing him to be home late. “I’m thinking there has to be a better way,” McQuade, now a dad of three, added. “However, we needed to reimagine every aspect of an operation to solve that problem, from the online order to the pickup. As a result, our solution looks nothing like a traditional supermarket, which is intentionally designed to be inefficient.” With the advent of online shopping, the traditional supermarket as we know continues to go through changes. Online grocery shopping is predicted to account for 20 percent of overall grocery shopping by 2026, so it is only going to grow. In addition, grocery stores are also clamoring for new technologies to improve the in-store experience and to best competitors. And yes, McQuade knows that national and local grocery stores offer similar pick-up service, but he explained that if you’ve ever tried one, you know that they can come with some drawbacks, like limited availability on pick-up time slots, being at the whim of the picker’s ability to choose quality products, additional fees and the online ordering inventory not matching what’s actually on the store shelf, resulting in frequent out-of-stock items. Addie’s drive-up grocery store (Image credit: Addie’s) Instead, Addie’s created inventory management technology systems that talk to each other in real time. McQuade said the system knows digitally where every physical item is on the shelf. To use his example, if the store has 15 gallons of organic 2% milk, but five of them are promised to other customers, the system will only allow customers to buy the other 10 gallons, but will not accept the request if someone tries to buy 11 gallons. “We haven’t seen anyone else with that ability or get it right in this space,” McQuade added. “It lets us make sure that when we promise that item is here, we know we can keep it. So when you shop with us, you can shop with confidence.” Now with its first store open, Addie’s is eyeing its next move, which McQuade said will be expanding store locations, and he believes that this concept could grow to over 2,000 locations. Addie’s planned expansion is buoyed by $10.1 million in new seed funding led by Disruptive Innovation Fund, the venture capital arm of Clay Christensen’s Rose Park Advisors. In addition, McQuade intends to use the funding to build out his team — those intentional efforts to increase efficiencies help the store to pay store employees $20 per hour in starting wages — and on technology development. Meanwhile, he believes Addie’s has built a model that is replicable in other towns. Grocery stores need to show profitability in orders and customers, two concepts McQuade believes has already been proven. “The busy families that have had access to our early operations love what we’re doing, and we’re seeing first, second and third orders well in excess of $200 each,” he added. “When we think about what that means, with an appropriate marketing profile, these customers are paying themselves back in a period of weeks, not months or years.” The grocery industry’s shopping list: Inventory management, frictionless checkout, computer vision Addie’s opens first drive-up grocery store in Massachusetts following $10.1M seed by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch

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What is automation good for? Harvesting more broccoli than human laborers can, according to Upp, a Shropshire-UK based agTech startup that’s using computer vision AI plus farm-sized proprietary machinery to expand crop yields. Its pitch is not only that its specialist, AI-driven harvester will make it more efficient to pick a familiar crop but also that the process will reduce waste — by being able to extract more nutritious protein from a field of broccoli without needing an army of extra human workers to do it. Upp says the smart machinery it’s developing will enable broccoli farmers to harvest more of the plant than they feasibly could using human field laborers because the AI-plus-tractor-tool combo will do it all: Fully automating the spotting, cutting, lifting and carrying, at a rate of up to 3km/h. This AI-driven approach allows for farmers to “upcycle” the 80% of the broccoli plant (i.e extra stem and leaves) that’s normally left as waste on the field, per Upp, and sell that as a additional product that can be processed into a form it suggests is comparable to pea protein. The startup’s concept system, which CEO and co-founder, David Whitewood, tells TechCrunch it’s been developing with help from technologists at the University of Lincoln, involves a tractor kitted out with a 3D camera and an on-board computer running a computer vision AI model that’s been trained to identify when broccoli heads are the right size for picking (with better-than-human accuracy, is the claim), along with a proprietary (patent pending) tractor-pulled cutting-and-harvesting tool. “The job of harvesting broccoli is — firstly — you’ve got to recognize which heads are ready to be harvested. So we’ve been cooperating with the University of Lincoln’s agri products team who’ve been developing the machine learning and AI,” he explains. “We’ve been testing a whole bunch of cameras with them and dealing with the difficult problem of occlusion [where leaves may partly obscure the camera’s view of the broccoli head]. “They’ve using a depth-sensing camera with the 3D piece in it to determine the size of that head. Because we don’t cut every head — we only cut the ones at the right size as demanded by the supermarkets… That then says ‘cut’ and that sends a signal to our on-board computer and then we actuate our patented mechanism that grabs the plant — which would be the same as a human grasping the plant stem — and then a very sharp knife flies in and cuts it in a fraction of a second. And then the plant is lifted away.” Alphabet X graduates robotic agtech firm Mineral The extra edible plant matter harvested in this way isn’t intended for supermarket shelves — where the stringent cosmetics standards grocery retailers typically apply to their suppliers is a major contributor to food waste by refusing to stock less than perfect looking fruit and veg — rather the idea is for it to be processed into a protein- and nutrient-rich ingredient for selling to the food industry. Upp envisages the dried broccoli protein being used in a range of products — from sports-style protein drinks to pre-prepared meals and baked goods. The bits of the broccoli it’s targeting for upcycling are 30% protein by dried weight, per the startup’s website, and also packed with nutrients (vitamin A, B, C, E, K, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc) — as well as being high in fiber. Upp does not appear to have had any trouble getting early interest from the food industry for the upcycled edible plant-protein — with Whitewood noting it already has a trio of industry partnerships inked (he can’t yet name names but says one is a global “functional drinks” giant; another is a big UK food brand; and the third is a specialist confectionary bakery). “They’ve very interested in the health aspects of broccoli,” he goes on. “They’re interested in the fact that it’s clean and sustainable… So they’re excited, shall we say. I don’t think we’ve got a problem with a market for it — once we’ve got it off the field.” On the processing piece, Upp is working with experts at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee to figure out how best “to recover the fractions from that plant that makes it suitable for the food industry primarily”, per Whitewood. Zooming out, Upp is developing what it bills as a specialist “circular plant protein” business against a backdrop of growing demand for alternative, plant-based proteins as the food industry looks for ways to shrink its reliance on animal-derived proteins in order to reduce its carbon footprint — with global pressure on farmers and food companies to hit climate targets. Hence the startup is projecting that its AI-harvested broccoli protein could grow into a multi billion-dollar market in the coming years. On the marketing side it claims an added environmental upside — suggesting broccoli protein is cleaner than pea protein (being 4x less carbon intensive to produce), while also arguing it avoids the deforestation problem that’s tainted the reputation of soya crops. So the pitch is this is an even greener plant protein. One potential PR wrinkle is there will inevitably be some (human) worker displacement as a result of automating the harvesting of broccoli. Whitewood says the system replaces about seven field workers — but he notes that “warm bodies” are still needed in the pack house to package the broccoli products for retail. “Seven hard to get people,” he adds, sketching a picture of the gruelling work field laborers typically have to do and arguing these aren’t the kind of jobs anyone is going to miss. “Nobody wants to do this work. Even in China and India they’re struggling to get people to do this… It’s the 21st century and we’re still expecting people to do this. It’s just crazy.” While the 2022-founded startup’s tech has been developed to the concept stage it’s gearing up for the next stage — to hone a robust technology that can be commercially deployed — with a series of “field-to-protein” pilots planned this year in the UK, Spain and California. It’s expecting to start commercial production (and generate its first revenues) in late 2024 — projecting revenues will exceed £50M in its three pilot markets in 2027. The business was established last year as a spinout from another UK agTech business called Earth Rover — where Whitewood had been CEO before moving over to Upp as a co-founder when they decided to separate into two distinct businesses. Today the startup is announcing a £500,000 pre-seed investment from Elbow Beach Capital, a decarbonisation, sustainability and social impact investor, to fund the field trials — ahead of planned commercial deployment later next year. Whitewood says the first commercial use of the tech will likely be in Spain or the UK, owing to seasonality, before Upp moves on to pitching California’s broccoli growers on automated crop yield optimization. Why hasn’t anyone done thought about extracting more of the good stuff from broccoli plants before? Whitewood says people have been thinking about the potential to do this for over a decade but he suggest it’s just “really hard” — given the selective harvesting required, as well as the need to separate out the harvested crop, with part (the broccoli crown) going to supermarkets (to be sold fresh) and the rest requiring additional processing. “It sounds simple — a lot of people have tried and a lot of people have failed,” he suggests. “It’s only since you’ve got a specialist harvester that can handle all the bulk that suddenly you can start to deal with the rest of it. You need automation — and it needs big automation. Little robots aren’t going to deal with crops of this scale, this bulk… You need farm-sized machinery.” Nest co-founder Matt Rogers’ new startup is trash Danish startup Kanpla wants to help canteens cut food waste Upp wants to add more broccoli to the plant-protein mix using big automation by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch

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As VC activity slowed down globally last year, Kenya defied odds to record the strongest growth in funding raised in Africa. Reports show that the deal count and value to the country surpassed 2021 figures owing to increased investor interest. Data from market intelligence firm Briter Bridges, and The Big Deal shows Kenya raised $1.1 billion, more than double the funding that the East Africa’s biggest economy got in 2021, when the continent raised about $5 billion. Another report by Partech, which excluded Sun King’s mega round, also shows that Kenya’s funding spiked by 33% last year, to a record $758 million. Why Africa had no unicorns last year despite record fundraising haul Partech placed Kenya fourth in the list of the top VC destinations in Africa, after Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt, respectively. Briter, which included country ranking this year, and Big Deal positioned Kenya as second VC destination after Nigeria, which took the lead after raising $1.2 billion, despite the deal number and value dropping. When compared to the previous year, the amount invested in Nigeria dipped by over 36% according to Partech, and 20% as per Big Deal’s data. South Africa’s funding stagnated as per Partech while Big Deal data shows a 42% decline. The reports show that Kenya recorded the strongest growth in the continent, as Egypt’s VC funding grew slightly too. Overall, Africa reported an increase in invested amount last year; Partech put the figure at $6.4 billion, Briter Bridges at $5.4 billion, and Big Deal at $4.8 billion. Cleantech and e-commerce Nearly all sectors in Kenya experienced increased VC interest, however, cleantech, e-commerce, fintech, and food and agriculture verticals accounted for the bulk of the activity. The cleantech sector received the greatest VC interest in Kenya, as it accounted for nearly half of the total capital raised by Kenyan private venture-backed companies – buoyed by Sun King’s mega round and M-Kopa’s funding. Both PAY-Go scale-ups are providers of solar home systems, but M-Kopa’s platform now includes financing of a range of products and services. Other cleantech ventures that attracted venture backing include BasiGo, an EV startup trying to electrify Kenya’s public transport sector currently dominated by fossil-fuel buses. Seven scaleups hog over 70% of funding to Africa’s solar pay-go ventures Investor interest in cleantech ventures aligns to last year’s global trend that saw more capital injected into businesses that are mitigating climate change. It is expected that the clean and climate tech verticals, and more narrowly in Africa, will continue to pull VC dollars amidst slowdown in funding. Scaleups in the e-commerce sector like Wasoko and MarketForce; B2B platforms enabling informal traders to source goods directly from manufacturers and distributors, and Copia; an e-commerce platform that taps its network of agents to serve customers in rural areas, also pulled in investors too. The aforementioned raised big rounds that saw the vertical emerge as one of the most positively impacted by VC funding. Fintechs also continued to attract most funding on the continent as Africa, the world’s second-fastest payments and banking market grows. However, in Kenya, the vertical was third in VC preference, evaluated by deal value. On the other hand, the vertical experienced the most activity in terms of deal numbers. Meanwhile, despite Kenya experiencing the enormous growth last year, the market was not spared by the effects of VC slowdown, as some businesses like Kune and WeFarm wound up, as others like Twiga, Sendy and MarketForce cut down their staff numbers as they adjusted to new fundraising realities. Why international DFIs are looking to African startups to scale impact investing efforts Africa predicted to experience sustained funding slowdown in 2023 Kenya’s growth was strongest in Africa’s VC market; Clean tech, E-commerce pulled in most of the funding by Annie Njanja originally published on TechCrunch

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Jonathan Martinez Contributor Share on Twitter Jonathan Martinez is a former YouTuber, UC Berkeley alum and growth marketing nerd who's helped scale Uber, Postmates, Chime and various startups. More posts by this contributor Teach yourself growth marketing: How to boot up an email marketing campaign Teach yourself growth marketing: How to launch a paid acquisition channel Without customers, there can be no business. So how do you drive new customers to your startup and keep existing customers engaged? The answer is simple: Growth marketing. As a growth marketer who has honed this craft for the past decade, I’ve been exposed to countless courses, and I can confidently attest that doing the work is the best way to learn the skills to excel in this profession. I am not saying you need to immediately join a Series A startup or land a growth marketing role at a large corporation. Instead, I have broken down how you can teach yourself growth marketing in five easy steps: Setting up a landing page. Launching a paid acquisition channel. Booting up an email marketing campaign. A/B test growth experimentation. Deciding which metrics matter most for your startup. In this fourth part of my five-part series, I’ll take you through a few standard A/B tests to begin with, then show which tests to prioritize once you have assembled a large enough list. Finally, I’ll explain how to run these tests with minimal external interference. For the entirety of this series, we will assume we are working on a direct-to-consumer (DTC) athletic supplement brand. A crucial difference between typical advertising programs and growth marketing is that the latter employs heavy data-driven experimentation fueled by hypotheses. Let’s cover growth experimentation in the form of A/B testing. It is important to consider secondary metrics and not always rely on a single metric for measuring impact. How to properly do A/B tests A/B testing, or split testing, is the process of sending traffic to two variants of something at the same time and analyzing which performs best. In fact, there are hundreds of different ways to invalidate an A/B test and I’ve witnessed most of them while consulting for smaller startups. During my tenure leading the expansion of rider growth at Uber, we used advanced internal tooling simply to ensure that tests we performed ran almost perfectly. One of these tools was a campaign name generator that would keep naming consistent so that we could analyze accurate data when the tests had concluded. Some important factors to consider when running A/B tests: Do not run tests with multiple variables. Ensure traffic is being split correctly. Set a metric that is being measured. The most common reason for tests getting invalidated is confounding variables. At times it isn’t obvious, but even testing different creatives in two campaigns that have different bids can skew results. When setting up your first A/B test, ensure there’s only one difference between the two email campaigns or datasets being tested.Teach yourself growth marketing: How to perform growth experimentation through A/B testing by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch

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Spatial Labs, a web3 infrastructure and hardware company, announced today the closing of a $10 million seed round led by Blockchain Capital with participation from Marcy Venture Partners, the firm co-founded by Jay-Z. Iddris Sandu founded Spatial Labs in 2021, seeking to create products and shopping experiences using augmented reality. “The metaverse to us is not a virtual space that people go to spend time in. It’s a world in which we can add more context to your real world and make your real world more enjoyable,” Sandu told TechCrunch. “We’re going to be responsible for catalyzing a completely new generation to be more conscious of their environment; more conscious of how they spend and how they buy.” “It’s always crypto winter being a Black founder.” Iddris Sandu, founder, Spatial Labs Spatial Labs company made a splash in the industry last year by selling clothes designed by Sandu called Gen One Hardwear, which were embedded with a microchip called LNQ (pronounced link) that provided consumers with the item’s provenance and ownership history, seen, naturally, on the blockchain. Almost like a QR code, tapping the LNQ chip with a phone unlocked online and in-person experiences, such as virtual concerts. Last year, Spatial Labs launched a marketplace for buying and selling items. It also sold microchips to those wishing to sell their own embedded products and upload their own exclusive offerings for potential buyers. The chip, for example, allows brands to add loyalty programs directly into their products rather than, say, signing someone up for an email list. To gain access to the loyalty benefits, all consumers must do is bring their phone within proximity to the chip sown into the item they purchased from the brand. “There was a time when nutritional facts weren’t available on products, so people were just consuming anything,” Sandu said. “We want to give and create a new nutritional fact ecosystem for the products that you put on your body, as well as the objects you put into your home.” This seed round makes Sandu, now 25, one of the youngest Black men to raise a double-digit seed round—and a solo founder at that. He’s already part of a somewhat rarified club. Per Crunchbase data, only 1% of all VC funds were allocated to Black founders last year; out of the $21.5 billion raised by web3 startups globally last year, $60 million of that went to U.S.-based Black web3 founders, one of whom was Sandu. He said it took around six months to close his round. Asked what it was like raising during what was also a crypto winter, he said that for Black founders, there is little difference between a bear and a bull market due to persistent funding discrimination. “It’s always crypto winter being a Black founder,” he said. “It’s challenging, but it’s worth it.” With the fresh capital, Spatial Labs plans to continue scaling its blockchain-enabled technology and expand into other industries, such as media and entertainment. Later this year, it also plans on launching a device called Node to simplify how long it takes to develop and deploy augmented reality experiences. “We’re also thinking about reducing the barrier of entry into web3 and augmented reality using our chip technology,” Sandu continued. Sandu has come a long way from where he started. Born in Accra, Ghana, he moved with his family to Los Angeles at the age of three. Inspired by the launch of the iPhone, he spent time at his local libraries, first in Compton and then later in Harbor City after his family moved, to teach himself computer programming with hopes of one day becoming an entrepreneur. By high school, he was working for Google and building his own apps. He was recognized by then-President Barack Obama for his work in STEM, forwent attending MIT to focus on building technology, consulted with Twitter, Snapchat, and Rihanna, created software for Uber, and helped create the first smart retail store with the late Nipsey Hussle. At the same time, he realized there was an information gap affecting Black youth like himself, where even his textbooks in Compton were outdated. “If you want to keep people out of space, the easiest way to do that is creating separatism as it relates to information,” Sandu said. He considers himself a lucky one in that, at a young age, he was able to find his way around pushing boundaries but notes that it shouldn’t have to be that way. Next year, he hopes to launch a personal fund to support people of color and will focus on tech and hardware innovation. Until then, though, he’s building Spatial Labs. He wants it to become one of the fastest-growing unicorns and, overall, wishes to inspire the next generation of technologists; naturally, of course, he wants also to create products that, well, change the world. “Legacy for me is centered around how many lives we can impact, more so than how many products we can sell,” he said. “It’s the purpose that I feel I’ve been called here to do,” Sandu continued. “To open doors and to hold them as long as possible and eventually make sure that those doors simply do not exist. No one can gatekeep if there is not a door there.” This piece was updated to reflect what year LINQ and Gen One Hardware launched.  Spatial Labs, a web3 infrastructure and hardware company, closes $10M seed round by Dominic-Madori Davis originally published on TechCrunch

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Meati Foods is closer to full-scale production of its whole-food protein made from the structural fibers of mushrooms, known as mycelium. The company announced Thursday the opening of its production facility, dubbed “Mega Ranch,” in Colorado. The 100,000-square-foot facility was financed in part by a $150 million Series C round of capital raised last year and a brand new extension round of $22 million. This will enable Meati to produce an annual rate of tens of millions of pounds by late 2023. Once fully ramped up, the facility will have the capability of producing over 45 million pounds of product. Tyler Huggins, co-founder and CEO of Meati Foods, told TechCrunch that the company wasn’t actively seeking additional capital, but had decided to keep the Series C round open due to additional investor interest. “There was more interest than room in the $150 million round, so we continued to keep it open,” he said. “We also wanted to bring in value-add folks and pour more fuel on the fire which would help us move faster, get into more doors and unlock more capacity.” The use of mycelium is growing as not only an alternative protein source, like what fellow foodtech companies Perfect Day, MyForest Foods and Fable Food do, but also in clothing and leather. In the past few years, many foodtech companies are joining Meati Foods in going from the R&D phase to building facilities. For example, No Meat Factory announced new funding earlier this month to build a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing plant to scale its alternative protein, while both Planetary and Prolific Machines raised capital in 2022 to build production facilities. With a focus on providing products that are sustainable, nutritious and taste good, Mega Ranch enables Meati Foods to grow, harvest and process its mycelium and then produce its products under one roof. The company touts its proprietary production capability to grow a teaspoon of spores into the equivalent of hundreds of cow whole-food protein in just a few days. Its Eat Meati product line is already being produced at the Mega Ranch and currently includes four products, the Classic Cutlet, Crispy Cutlet, Classic Steak and Carne Asada Steak. Crispy Cutlet (Image credit: Meati Foods) The products are sold through retail and foodservice partners, including Sprouts Farmers Market, Sweetgreen and Birdcall. It is also doing small drops of products online that Huggins said continuously sell out quickly. In addition, he plans to get Meati products into 7,000 doors by the end of the year. The new capital round was led again by Revolution Growth and also included Rockefeller Capital. Now, the company’s total funding to date is over $250 million. “The next few years will see a seismic shift in how we eat, and Meati’s state-of-the-art, scalable production capabilities coupled with its focus on meeting consumer needs for clean, whole-food protein position the brand to lead,” said Fazeela Abdul Rashid, partner at Revolution Growth and member of the Meati Foods board, in a written statement. “Tyler and the team have a vision for a new food category with pure ingredients and taste that doesn’t compromise. We are excited to continue working with them to reach the next level and bring Meati to more consumers across the U.S.” When I spoke with Huggins in 2022, he mentioned the company’s goal of reaching a $1 billion in revenue run rate by 2025. The company is already bringing in tens of millions of dollars in revenue with plans to reach hundreds of millions in 2024. With the new facility and funding, Meati is on par to reach that sales rate. In addition to what he called the “core four” products, Huggins said the company’s technology can make other products all from one processing line. Meanwhile, the company is also scouting out a location for what Huggins called “Giga Ranch” which will be Meati’s flagship facility that will be able to produce hundreds of millions of pounds of its mycelium product annually. Huggins said that “2023 will be a big moment” for the company in terms of production, building its brand and educating people about mushroom protein and its capability to provide more nutrition and be a net benefit to the world’s food system. “There is no shortage of stuff coming out, and we have no lack of demand,” he added. “Our pipeline is robust, and everything we produce in the next year or more is already pre-sold. It’s now about unlocking capacity to get the product out there.” Cultivated beef companies tout sustainability. Will it lead to marketability? Mushroom protein company Meati Foods opens ‘mega’ facility; closes $22M in new funding by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch

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Code-hosting platform GitHub has announced that 100 million developers are now using the platform. The figure represents a substantial hike on the 3 million users GitHub counted exactly 10 years ago, the 28 million it claimed when Microsoft acquired it for $7.5 billion five years ago, and the 90 million-plus it revealed just three months ago. GitHub has come a long way since its launch back in 2008, and now serves as the default hosting service for millions of open source and proprietary software projects, allowing developers to collaborate around shared codebases from disparate locations. For Microsoft, GitHub serves to help ingratiate it with software development sphere, having initially treated open source software with more than a little disdain, while it’s also using GitHub and its associated data — somewhat controversially — to develop a new AI-powered pair programmer called Copilot. But perhaps more importantly for Microsoft, in the near-term at least, is that the various GitHub paid plans on offer now contribute around $1 billion annually to its coffers. During a keynote back in 2019, former CEO Nat Friedman said that the company was aiming for 100 million developers by 2025. So it seems that it has hit that milestone a good two years ahead of plan. GitHub says it now has 100M active users by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

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Hawk AI, a German company developing anti-money laundering (AML) and tangential fraud prevention smarts for financial institutions, has raised $17 million in a Series B round of funding. Prior to now, Hawk AI had raised $10 million, and with a fresh $17 million in the bank, the company said that it plans to bolster its product development and global expansion plans. The Series B round was led by Sands Capital, with participation from Picus Capital, DN Capital, Coalition, and BlackFin Capital Partners. It’s estimated that up to $2 trillion of ill-gotten gains are laundered each year, representing as much as 5% of global GDP, with just 1% of these illegal profits recovered. And this is where Hawk AI is setting out its stall. Founded out of Munich in 2018, Hawk AI serves to improve how banks and payment companies manage their compliance risks through a cloud-native, modular AML surveillance system that promises the “highest level of explainability” in its AI-powered decision-making engine, which is pivotal for audits and regulatory investigations. “Financial Institutions and regulators need to be able to understand and trust AI-driven decisions,” Hawk AI cofounder and CEO Tobias Schweiger told TechCrunch. “Full explainability of such an AI is the key to establishing trust and acceptance.” Hawk AI: AML transaction monitoring, explainable results Image Credits: Hawk AI Hawk AI offers products such as payments screening, customer screening, transaction monitoring, transaction fraud, and customer risk rating, which allows its customers to build their own risk-rating model by combining static data (e.g. product or geographical data) with dynamic data (e.g. transaction data such as suspicious activity reports). Among its customers are European spend-management platform Moss, U.S. payments processing company North American Bancard, and Brazil’s Banco do Brasil Americas. Black box Besides the legacy incumbents in the space such as Verafin, BAE Systems, and Oracle, there are other notable newish-comers in this space, including financial fraud unicorn Feedzai and VC-backed Feature Space. However, Hawk AI is touting its cloud-native credentials and SaaS business model as one of its core differentiators, versus the clunky on-premise deployments of many of the legacy players. But the company is keen to stress its focus on addressing the “black box” world that AI and machine learning algorithms typically inhabit — understanding why an algorithm made a specific decision is key, and companies need to be able to justify why one customer was flagged as a potential fraudster. Hawk AI: Customer risk rating Image Credits: Hawk AI It’s worth noting that other anomaly detection software do give insights into what factors led to a flag. But Hawk AI says that its patent-pending technology also tells users what the “expected range” of normal behavior is, giving a score for each risk-factor using natural human language. The company says that this context is essential in terms of evaluating whether a case qualifies as suspicious activity or not. “For Hawk AI, explainability is made up of two areas,” Schweiger said. “What is the justification for an AI-driven, individual decision, and how were the algorithms that contribute to AI developed? Compliance officers need to have transparency over both.” Hawk AI, an anti-money laundering and fraud prevention platform for banks, raises $17M by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

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Smart home energy startup Tado has raised €43 million ($46.9 million) in a round of funding led by Trill Impact Ventures, as the company pursues plans to become profitable in 2023. The raise comes a year after the German company announced plans to go public (“deSPAC”) via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), plans that ultimately failed to materialize after Luxembourg-based shell company GFJ ESG Acquisition I SE pulled out of the deal in September. Founded in 2011, Tado is best known for its smart thermostats and platform for managing home heating and cooling systems. The platform includes geofencing smarts which controls a home’s temperature based on whether anyone’s in the house, while it can also detect and alert users about open windows. Tado: Geofencing in action Image Credits: Tado Headwinds Prior to now, Tado had raised nearly $160 million in funding, with notable investors including Amazon plowing money into the company, not to mention industrial manufacturing giant Siemens and energy firm E.On. More than a decade on since its inception, it appeared that Tado and its big-name backers were on course to achieve their big exit last year after revealing plans to land on the Frankfurt stock exchange with a €450 million ($490 million) valuation in tow. However, Tado and its SPAC partner revealed in March that they were “adjusting” the enterprise value to around €400 million ($436 million) due to “current market volatility,” before the deal finally went the way of the dodo six months later. Little more was revealed about the reasons behind this, though it was reasonable to assume that with tech valuations plummeting and economic headwinds driving major downsizing efforts across just about every sector, Tado and GFJ ESG Acquisition simply got cold feet due to the timing of it all. “We decided to end ongoing discussions related to a deSPAC with GFJ ESG Acquisition I SE due to current public capital market conditions,” Tado’s chief product officer Christian Deilmann explained to TechCrunch. “We value and appreciate our partnership with GFJ ESG, and share similar goals towards building a more sustainable future for Europe and the world.” And so Tado has instead chosen to double down on its recent growth, which in 2022 it claims saw it pass 3 million smart thermostats sold since its beginnings. With a fresh $46.9 million in the bank, the Munich-based company said that it’s looking to scale its business in two ways — one of which involves appealing to customers looking to counter rising energy costs through combining so-called “time-of-use” energy tariffs with its smart thermostat products. Time-of-use tariffs essentially encourage users to use electricity at specific times when it’s cheaper, and Tado acquired a company called Awattar last year that provides power load-shifting through such tariffs “We will double down on helping our customers to reduce heating expenses,” Deilmann said. “So far, our focus was on reducing energy demand, now with our smart energy tariffs we also help to reduce the cost of energy. With a smart energy tariff, special heat pumps are controlled in a way that they avoid running during hours of a day in which energy prices are high. Everything happens automatically in the background while always maintaining a perfect room climate.” Additionally, Tado said that it’s planning to work with real estate companies that manage rental properties, which could help Tado scale. Emergency exit While it’s impossible to ignore the widespread layoffs that have permeated the technology industry for the past year, Tado said that it has so far not had to downsize in anyway, and doesn’t expect to do so. “We currently have 200 employees at Tado, with the majority of employees based in our Munich headquarters,” Deilmann said, adding that it also has remote workers in the U.K. and Austria. However, all this leaves one lingering question. As a 12 year old company with around $200 million in funding, some sort of exit seems a little overdue — its previous round of funding in 2021 was intended to be its final raise before it explored a sale or public listing. So can we expect an IPO — SPAC or otherwise — in the future? “Whilst we do want to consider the public listing of Tado in the future, we have no updates in this regard, whether publicly listing ourselves, or via a SPAC,” Deilmann said. “Our current focus is to continue our strong growth track of doubling business on a yearly basis, while turning profitable in 2023.” In addition to lead investor Trill Impact Ventures, Tado’s latest round of funding included participation from Bayern Kapital, Kiko Ventures, and Swisscanto (Zürcher Kantonalbank). European smart thermostat startup Tado raises $46.9M after failed SPAC plan by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

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